A New Twist on an Old Shopping Rule

One shopping guideline I’ve often mentioned on this blog is, “Don’t buy something on sale that you wouldn’t buy at full price.”  While I frequently repeat this tried-and-true principle, it didn’t originate with me (although I don’t remember where I first read or heard it).  I firmly believe we shouldn’t buy things just because they are on sale or for the reason that we’re getting “a good deal.”  We’re far too likely to settle in terms of quality, fit, color, or silhouette when faced with a very low price.

Sale signs

Don’t “settle” when you buy things on sale!

Discovering a New Twist

While I still whole-heartedly believe in the above precept, I thought of a new twist on it while shopping with a friend this past weekend.  We were mostly shopping for clothes for my friend, and issues of price came up frequently as she wrestled with the “to buy or not to buy” decision.

As we talked about the merits and flaws of particular garments in relation to their price, I realized we have very different perceptions and expectations for how much items of clothing should cost.  As one example, my friend believes $40 to $50 is too much to pay for a t-shirt style top, whereas I’m more than willing to spend that amount on such a garment if I love it and feel it fits me impeccably (although that wasn’t the case back in my “quantity over quality” shopaholic days).

These discussions with my friend resulted in my adding an addendum to the “don’t buy something on sale that you wouldn’t buy at full price” rule.  I’ll do my best to explain my revised philosophy below.

Expected Price Ranges

We all have price ranges that we expect to pay for particular garments.  While these ranges shift over time for a variety of reasons (income level, quality standards, etc.), at any given time we typically have a number in our heads that we’re willing to pay for our clothing and accessory purchases.

Let’s say you’re normally willing to pay around $50 for a top or $100 for a pair of shoes.  In most instances, you don’t even try on more expensive items, as you know you won’t buy them anyway.  However, let’s also say that you really like particular brands that cost quite a bit more than your desired price range.

To illustrate things more clearly, let’s use an example of one brand that is mentioned by a lot of readers, Eileen Fisher.  You may love the look, fit, color palette, and fabrication of Eileen Fisher clothing, but it doesn’t fit into your current price range.  But like with all brands, Eileen Fisher items sometimes go on sale, and the discounted items might dip down into the range you are willing to pay.  If you follow the “sale rule” to the letter of the law, you should not buy the Eileen Fisher garments on sale because you wouldn’t be willing to purchase them at full price.  But is that really the way you should go?

An Addendum to the “Sale Rule”

Upon consideration, I feel an addendum to the sale rule may be in order.  I think that perhaps it should now read,

Don’t buy an item at a price lower than your usual range if you wouldn’t buy it for the amount you’d typically pay.”

While this is a bit more unwieldy than the original “rule” (and I may try to wordsmith it a bit), it may end up being more helpful in the long run.

Let’s go back to the example of my friend shopping for tops.  Based upon my discussion with her, it seems she believes t-shirts shouldn’t cost more than $25-30.  If finds a top she likes in that price range, she’ll buy it.  If it costs more than that amount, she usually leaves it in the store.

The Danger Area

The danger area, however, are those tops that cost less than $25.  She may end up buying them simply because she considers them to be “a deal.”  Thus, she may lower her standards for one or more key aspects of the garment, such as the fabric, color, style, or fit.  For instance, she may purchase a cream-colored tee instead of the white one she really had in mind, or she may buy a size too large because it’s the only one available.

I have done this type of thing myself many times!  I think that’s why I purchased so many sub-standard consignment items.  I’d think something along the lines of, “This skirt only costs $10.  Maybe I can get my tailor to shorten it and take it in.”  Or I’d buy a top in a shade of green that’s less than ideal for my skin tone (like the one pictured in my last post) because I loved the style, it fit me well, and “the price was right.”

I don’t think I would have made such poor decisions with garments that were priced in my usual range.  I would have held out for items that were “hits” on all levels instead of just a few.  I wouldn’t have lowered my standards.

The Bottom Line – Don’t Lower Your Standards!

In the end, something is not a “bargain” if we don’t love and wear it.  If you’ve been a bargain shopper like me, I’m sure you can recall many items you bought on sale that ended up hanging in your closet collecting dust.  In retrospect, those purchases weren’t really “deals” at all; rather, they were a waste of your hard-earned money!

However, on the flip side, it may be worthwhile to purchase certain items on sale if you love them but just wouldn’t be able to afford them at regular price.  It may be helpful to shop the sales for your favorite high-end brands that are out of your reach otherwise.  But the caveat to aim for “8”s or higher applies there, too!  Don’t buy something just for the brand name if it’s “off” in any key area.  It’s not worth it to settle at any price!

Recovery Tip

Take a few moments to jot down your price expectations for various wardrobe categories.  It may be helpful to break things down into sub-categories as well (i.e. separate out t-shirts from blouses and divide tops by sleeve length if applicable).  Get down on paper – or screen – how much you expect to spend (and are willing to pay) for particular items.

When you shop, have this information on hand.  If an item in question is priced lower than your standard amount, ask yourself if you’d be willing to pay your usual price-point for it.  If the answer is no, walk away!  It’s highly likely that you’d be lowering your standards in some key area, whether it be quality, fit, color, or style.

Use sales as an opportunity to purchase brands and styles that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, not as a chance to “stock up” on quantity over quality.  But still be mindful of how you feel about the item in question.  Don’t buy something just because it’s marked with a particular designer’s logo.  You should always love everything you buy, no matter what the price.  In short, never lower your standards!


Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and subscribe for free updates by email.

I also invite you to join the End Closet Chaos private Facebook group, where you can interact with others about the topics discussed here.

Comments

  1. I *just* went through this with a white tank for the summer! I got the first bargain basement one for $7 from Alloy. I like it, it broke me in to the flowy silhouette, but it was a knit, not a woven as I was looking for. Then I spied a chiffon double layer one in H&M on a rare brick and mortar shopping trip. They didn’t have my size, but I was intrigued enough to get it online later. $19. It was okay, but not quite ‘it’. Then I had a dream item, way more than I would spend. A BCBG tank at $138 before tax or shipping! WAY out of my price range. It went on sale, still expensive for me, for $100 out the door. I bit. So glad I did. Once I tried it on, I could see how it was superior to the ‘okay’ H&M one. Returned the mid range tank, use the cheap one to lounge, and now have exactly what I wanted in my (still expensive for me) sale item. 🙂
    Bottom line, we do have built in ranges that are acceptable to us for categories of items. But it is worth it to sometimes try and expand out of those if you truly love an item. I am confident that my $100 tank will bring me a lot more joy than five $20 ones. It’s hard to rewire your thinking, and as a recovering bargain hunter, see the sale in a different light. Sale shopping solely price driven does not serve me. Finding a higher end item I might not otherwise consider on sale and taking a leap on it is a different animal I think, and expands my horizons and field from which I can pick.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your white tank example, Mo. It illustrates the concept very well! I’m glad you splurged on then BCBG tank and it’s worked well for you. You’re so right that it’s worthwhile to expand our horizons and try new things. Enjoy your new top, which I’m sure looks fab on you!

  2. Debbie, great post as always! I totally agree! My rule addendum is similar- I have a list for the whole year (and next year too) with expected prices so I can set a budget and plan my purchases for the optimal times of year. The only time I buy on sale is if something is on my list and I’ve been waiting for the price to drop so I can finally afford it (Frye boots, Vince sweater, All Saints leather!)
    I think the key to this being successful is that I shop things that are full price, and then do a “power pause” so it will match my affordability level. After all, staying in budget is just as important as avoiding low quality! I think the process, when done correctly, highlights the rest of your rules, which include budgeting, shopping in your personal style with a list, and pausing. If you do it backwards, and just troll around on the outlets of J Crew, Nordstrom etc, looking for something that “might” work, then as they say, “you’re doin it wrong!”

    • Sarah E. — I also work from an annual list (sometimes stretching out to a longer time horizon for something outside of my dinky annual budget). I also wait to see if my ideal item goes on sale (helps that I work in retail and can time this a bit) and then pounce when the targeted item does on sale. I am currently saving my annual budget for new boots in the fall. Like you, I find working within an annual budget and annual wardrobe update plan a painless process that has saved me from many a shopping gaffe that might occur if I worked on a month-to-month basis. To me, thinking in monthly increments would allow me a “backdoor” of time and $$ to “correct” a bad purchase.

      • I do the yearly list, too. Agree it makes finding what you want/need at a price you are willing to pay easier.

        • It sure doesn’t make the waiting easier though! I still fall prey to the want for immediate gratification more often than I’d like, and have to silence the constant inner negotiator that tries to find loopholes for everything!

          • Ah that pesky inner negotiator! I’m trying to train mine to be a wet blanket- “It won’t suit you so why bother to try it on?”, “There’s no point ordering something that you’re probably going to return anyway”, etc.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Great comment, Sarah, and I like the follow-on comments from others, too. I think it’s really smart to plan our purchases for the optimal time of the year. I never used to plan my purchases at all, but you saw where that got me – LOL! It’s good to see that you are using a list, planning your buys, and employing the “power pause” to make sure you’re making the right decision when making a purchase.

  3. In my retail world I see folks buying stuff JUST because it’s on sale. If it also an item that fits into your wardrobe (right color, right fabric and construction, right fit, right lifestyle) and that is NEEDED then a sale item is worth the $ spent. But let’s think about WHY something is on sale or on the clearance rack or in the discount retailers. Is it because it’s an end-of-season sale, and room is needed for the next season’s stuff? Or is it because the fit is off or the color too garish or the fabric too wimpy? A whole of one item on deep discount may mean that the item is flawed in some way — the buttons gap at the wrong places or the lining or attached camisole is too small for the garment. Carefully perusing the sale items can help eliminate bringing problem garments home. I think getting something you need on sale is the cherry on top. If you would have bought it anyway, then it’s a deal.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      You definitely have a perspective on things that many of us don’t have, Dottie, working in retail. I think that buying things JUST because it’s on sale is never the right way to go, but it’s all too common. It’s wise to consider why things are on sale and then only buy them if they truly meet your needs. Most of the time, those sale items aren’t a good buy at all!

  4. Cornelia says:

    A huge sales was exactly what caused me to buy my first Eileen Fisher T-Shirt. Five years later the shirt still looks good, and while I have downgraded it to weekend wear, I bet my bottom dollar that it looks still better than any $ 10 shirt will right out of the store. Of course given budget limitations I cannot buy everything I like, but if I think through a purchase, I can buy an item now at full price a that makes me feel really good. I think you are spot-on, Debbie. Use a sale to aim for better rather than simply more.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Great story, Cornelia! I’m sure you’re right that your EF tee looks far better than any of those $10 tees. I doubt any $10 tee would last five years unless it’s just hanging in a closet or sitting in a drawer. I know you wear a lot of EF now, so it’s good that you used a sale to aim for better!

  5. Marianne says:

    Your blog posts are better and better…I think you have really found your blog “voice”. Enjoying the content a lot!!

    • I agree- better and better! This is an excellent post and I appreciate how insightful it is. Keep up the great writing, Debbie!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you both so much, Marianne and Emmy. I appreciate your popping in to acknowledge my writing. It means a lot to me to receive such feedback from readers!

  6. As someone who wants to wear All the Cashmere I definitely endorse the strategy of shopping sales in order to obtain higher-end items than I otherwise could. (Actually what I mostly do is buy secondhand.)

    On the other hand I’ve definitely had the experience of scooping up a low-priced bargain (again usually secondhand rather than in a sale) based on the high-end brand, and then realizing that the actual item didn’t suit me at all. So I like the idea of “shop sales to get items you couldn’t afford at regular price, but only if you’ve already shopped for/identified those items.”

    And then there are those brands (I’m looking at you, Gap family) that run such frequent promotions that I would never buy them at regular price — why pay “regular” price when I could wait three days and get it for 30% off?

    • Sigh! I remember (back in the Dark Ages of my youth) when there were only an handful of sales each year. Now there is one nearly every week for some retailers, thus “encouraging” the “cheap is better” mindset. Occasionally I will buy stuff at full retail price (bras, for example — my brand never seems to be on sale) but I find that I can time my limited annual purchases around some sale or other. I like the semi-annual sale concept much better, but we’ve been “trained” to expect a discount price all the time. However, I don’t “shop” sales. It’s in, buy the targeted item, and then out.

      • I live in a country where semi-annual sales are still the norm, but that’s gradually changing. There are certain retailers that seem to inflate their prices just so they can have constant “sales”, and at which I have a policy of not paying full price. I try to pretend that the “sale price” is the original price, and not be influenced by the supposed bargain.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I think people just expect things to be on sale these days. When I was shopping with my friend this past weekend, one of the stores we visited was Macy’s. Every single time I go in there (which used to be a lot, but not so much anymore), they are having a “big sale.” I think that it was a better time when there used to be a handful of sales each year. Dottie is so right that this just encourages the “cheap is better” mindset that is creating many problems!

  7. This is exactly what I was thinking when I was reading your book, but you put it so much better than I could. I own a lot of an ‘expensive’ (for me) clothing brand, and while often times I don’t like to wait past the 30% off coupon I do often enough wait for the sale and then get the coupon. This way I can afford things I normally can’t. Like a gorgous $160 dress for $35, $45, and $65!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      You seem to take advantage of sales well, Meli. You use them to buy clothes you otherwise couldn’t afford, not to amass a bunch of low-quality junk that will fall apart after just a few wearings. I wish I would have thought of this “new twist” before I published my book. But I can always write another one 🙂

  8. Deborah (Deby) says:

    I used to be a “more is better” shopper, particularly when it came to color. I always wanted to try something new, broaden my horizons. I ended up with a rainbow closet that has been severely pared down from its former self.

    And, like Dottie describes, I used to buy stuff just because it was on sale and a “good buy” (for somebody else, lol). Shopping was like an ongoing experiment, a sport, a way for me to try on things I wouldn’t normally purchase at full price, but I could gamble on at a discount. Sometimes I came away with a great garment, other times I laughed once I understood why it was on sale! The majority of the things I bought on sale were returned to the store, because it didn’t take me long to come to my senses once I got home.

    What has helped me significantly to start was limiting my color palette. By doing so, I don’t need as many separates to cover all bases, and most importantly, it is easier for me to remember what I already have in my closet and not inadvertently buy a serial version of something I already own–because in my cramped closet of last year, I didn’t remember what I had. I never thought I could limit my color palette, but I found that I tended to gravitate to some colors and ignore others despite my intentions to give them all a fair wearing.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      My experience was much like yours, Deby. You’re right that limiting one’s color palette helps so much. I dismiss outright SO many garments these days because the colors are all wrong for me. I used to try to make things work, but that just gave me a packed “rainbow closet” that had me feeling more confused than inspired. You’ve done so well with paring things down and I love hearing about your continued wardrobe success!

  9. I very much agree with you Debbie. Some years ago my favourite brand was one that was just a little above my price range, so I always looked forward to their sales. One time I rushed to the store after work on the first day of the sale, determined to buy something. Unfortunately there was nothing that I really liked, and I ended up buying an unflattering skirt that I didn’t even like that much, just because it was the “least worst”. I didn’t even experience the temporary shopping high because I knew I didn’t want that skirt even before I handed the money over, instead I felt guilty and stupid. I had set my mind on buying something from that designer, and couldn’t bare to come out of the shop empty handed. Rather than returning the skirt, I tried to make it work, but I only wore it a few times and eventually passed it on. It was a very costly mistake and I still cringe when I think about it today. The incident was probably my first realisation that I needed to think more carefully about what I buy, and it was a small step in that I promised myself that I would leave the store without purchasing anything next time I was in that kind of situation, but it still took me a few years after that to truly reach a turning point in my shopping habits.

    • I just wanted to add that I’ve tried to train myself to feel a sense of accomplishment in walking out of a store without purchasing anything. The initial disappointment soon turns into relief at not having added another item to my credit card bill or used up cash that could be better spent elsewhere (or even saved!).

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your story, Kayla. I’ve definitely been there, too, but at least we’ve learned our lessons, right? I love that you’re training yourself to feel a sense of accomplishment when you walk out of a store empty-handed. I’m doing the same. It often feels much better NOT to buy things these days than it used to feel when I did make a purchase. I’m happy to be holding out for what I love and what meets my needs instead of settling.

  10. I tend to do most of my shopping online as I live in a rural area. I am a Tall size so I shop primarily at retailers such as Loft, Banana Republic etc. and they so regularly offer sales that I rarely pay full price. My strategy is to bookmark the item I like and then check back on it until there is a coupon available. Then I can decide if I still want it. The primary risk with this strategy is that my size/color can be sold out by the time a coupon becomes available. I am working to reassure myself that if the item I desired is no longer available, I will be able to find an alternative elsewhere. This process can also be more time-consuming.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      It’s good to hear from a fellow tall lady, CMO. I live in a metropolitan area, but I have to buy many garments online, too, as I need talls. I like your bookmarking strategy. I do that sometimes, too. I also bookmark items to use the “power pause” and make sure I really want to buy them. You’re right about the extra time, but it’s often worth it.

  11. I agree with your new shopping rule 100%, and it is how I’ve been operating lately as well. I wouldn’t buy a 100$ casual dress, but when that same dress is available at 40$ AND I have a legitimate need AND want to get that precise one – I go for it.

    Where this gets dangerous for me is when it comes to shoes. I am extremely picky about my shoes and basically only wear a couple brands (for different purposes), neither of which are exactly cheap. I would rather never buy these shoes at the normal price, becaue they are so expensive – so I end up obsessing about finding a great deal. And when I do, I sometimes get carried away to order new shoes eventhough I am not exactly in need of them – I just can’t see such a great deal coming up again when I WOULD need them. You can guess the result right? Too much money spent, too many shoes that I could’ve also managed without. Ah!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Sounds like you’re really following the rule in regards to the dress example, Rellies. I get where you’re coming from about the shoes. I’ve become increasingly picky there, too. I did spend a lot of money on a pair of shoes this January and haven’t regretted it at all. But it was a bit of “sticker shock” at first! I think buying things “just in case” or out of fear of missing out (FOMO) is pretty much never a good idea, as you’ve learned with your shoe example. I’ve been there…

  12. liesbeth says:

    It may be a good addition for some, because I agree that it is better to buy something of the highest possible quality within your price range. But I think this is a risky rule for others and you rightly add that you should always love what you buy and never lower your standards. I have experienced in the past the temptation to buy something from a designer just because the price was reduced. The fact that the item did not tick all of my boxes was easily forgotten in the light of owning something ‘expensive’. For me it helps to stick to a couple of designers (that I know make good quality) and of course to my prioritized shopping list. I avoid multi-brand sales nowadays. When you only check out selected designers’ stores and only keep an eye out for items on your list, the risk of shopping mistakes due to bargain hunting is greatly reduced in my opinion.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Yes, Liesbeth, it’s CRITICAL that we should always buy what we love and never lower our standards. It’s all too common for people to buy items just because they are X brand and that’s not the right reason to buy. Your strategy to stick with a few tried-and-true designers can definitely help to streamline the shopping process and avoid mistakes.

  13. Love the post Debbie! And it got me thinking…

    Remember way back in 2008 when the GFC hit? Well, one upside (arguably a downside) was that the Aussie dollar soared against the USD, giving me (in Oz) access to all the US brands I’d been lusting after but couldn’t previously afford. So I went nuts. I also paid full price, because where I come from, if it’s fantastic it never goes on sale. Additionally, I had major FOMO thinking the clock would strike midnight very soon and I’d have to leave the ball. Flash forward 5.5 years and it’s barely 9pm! Sorry for straining the metaphor, anyway…

    It took me a whole year to realise how frequently Americans are offered deals, coupons, sales, discounts etc. Ie, there is usually no need to pay full price for anything – amazing!

    I then became much more disciplined. I now put things I love that are out of my price range in wishlists and wait and wait for a great offer. Knowing I can always get a better deal forces me to wait, which in turn gives me a cooling off period in which to be sure the item is right. Those things that I still want after the long wait are things I really love, and the cherry on top is I get them for a great price too! Your amazing US system of bargains has led to me buying less, buying better / what I really love, and spending less on those things. Of course, I should have put the last paragraph in the past tense, as I’m currently on a ban!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      That FOMO can certainly get us into trouble, Tia! I loved your metaphor about the ball 🙂 I think it’s great that you’ve used the overabundance of sales in the U.S. to your advantage. I’m actually learning some great tips from your comment and others. Anything that will help us to pause and consider our best course of action is helpful. I’m definitely in favor of waiting to buy instead of immediately pulling the proverbial trigger.

  14. Rachel I. says:

    I love your reformulation of this tip. My own principle that I’m trying to follow is “don’t buy it BECAUSE it’s on sale.” I used to buy a ton of stuff just because it was marked down, whether or not I needed it or had even thought about owning something similar.

    I also use hukkster.com to mark things that I am interested in but can’t or won’t pay full price for. When the item goes on sale, they send me an e-mail. Then I can decide if I want it at that price. Putting something on hukkster also serves as a power pause. Many times when I get the sale e-mail, I’ve realized that I don’t need or want the item. Love the blog, Debbie!

    • Sarah E says:

      Rachel, I find it’s a good idea to have a website do the work for me as well, so I don’t waste my time searching for deals. Lyst.com does a pretty good job of this, but their selection doesn’t include some of the brands I like, either.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Great way to simply state a key principle, Rachel! I’d never heard of hukkster.com or lyst.com before, but I will check them out. I like that you and Sarah are using these sites to help you do the power pause and that you often end up not even buying the item in question!

  15. I go for the big ticket items. Some, I have actually paid full price if I know they will not go on sale: Chanel and Balenciaga. On the other hand, I do not purchase a lot. What to do…what to do….
    I know my brands and my style. At the beginning of each season, I go to the Neiman Marcus website and choose all the items I wish I could have, but are far, far out of reach for my budget. I drop these items in my shopping cart and wait….and wait…and wait. When the sales start, I start monitoring my shopping bag. IF an item I put in there full price earlier in the season is still remaining and at a significant discount (still not cheap, but affordable) and will blend with other items in my wardrobe, I will probably purchase it. One year, it was a magnificent pair of pearl and crystal studded Manolo’s. Another year, it was a Stella McCartney sweater. They are not impulsive purchases, but items I would have paid full price for if I could. I favor quality items and designs with flair (not trend). I rather spend my money on my opera tickets, art classes and European river cruises than clothing. With that said, I love the idea of a broad palette of gorgeous pieces to create my outfits. I am still wearing my Cacherel skirts from 3 decades ago. Quality usually shows and I would rather have a wardrobe built over time with gorgeous pieces. These pieces are like old friends that make dressing each day a joy and creative adventure. With that said, I have experimented with a couple of pieces from Zara. They have held up well. Trends are usually cheap.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      It sounds like you’ve devised a system that works well for you, Lisa. How great that you are still loving and wearing skirts from 3 decades ago! How many people can say that these days? Not many, I”m sure. You’re right that trends are usually cheap. I think it’s wonderful that you know what you like, hold out for it, and don’t purchase a lot. That’s the place I hope to get to at some point!

  16. Great post and great comments! You bring up a great point Debbie and I’ve been trying to use the sales for exactly that purpose – to get items that are pricier and higher quality which have dipped into my normal price range, rather than to stock up on cheap rags just because they are even cheaper.
    However…. many readers have commented that they will “stalk” an item until it goes on sale and then pounce. That’s great if that works out, but I will never, ever wait for something I truly love and want to go on sale. Because it probably won’t be there. My two favourite brands both operate on the same principle – they change their stock all the time and don’t make too many of the same items. They hardly ever put anything on sale for that reason. It’s a very clever concept because it really feeds the FOMO and sometimes you end up buying something you’re not sure about because you know you won’t get it if you come back tomorrow . I still try to implement the power pause but just recently left a lovely denim dress in the store to think about it, made up my mind and came back the following day to buy and it was gone… they didn’t get another shipment of these dresses only had three, one in each size, and now I’m running around looking for a dress just like the one I nearly had. I don’t know if the US chains will eventually start doing a similar thing – it certainly works for these brands in that they hardly ever mark anything down.

    • I don’t think I “stalk” clothes (I’m not in a storeshopping/on-line shopping that much). But when I decide I need to buy something (case in point, tall winter boots), I do some research, determine the brand(s) and features I’m interested in, and then identify a retailer with said items. Then I wait a bit to see if the garment or boots or whatever goes on sale. I am happy with a smailler discount if I’m buying something like boots that I’ll wear for years; I would worry that my all-too-common shoe size would sell out if I wait for a deeper sale discount or until clearance. My goal is to stretch by annual $250 clothing/shoes/accessories/outerwear budget (in fact, all purchases) and to perhaps upgrade my purchasing power to get a better boot on sale. Now, I last bought tall winter boots about 20 years ago, so I am hoping that I can get at least 10 years’ of wear out of a new pair. I am prepared to save all my annual clothing budget to get the best pair possible. And I have an annual wardrobe purchase plan that I’m working from and I mostly buy items on this list.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I don’t know of many U.S. brands that don’t mark things down. The sales culture seems to be such a way of life here. In fact, when J.C. Penney tried to have “everyday low prices” instead of continual sales, their profits went way down. Of course, that’s an example of a low-price retailer, but I think the same would be true for many U.S. companies. You made a good point about buying something if you know you truly love it and can afford it. Sometimes holding out for a lower price causes us to lose out, but many people are willing to take the risk. I advocate a “power pause,” but beyond that, it’s an individual thing. I like reading about what works for everyone, as the strategies are quite different. But vive la difference… what matters most is that it works for the person in question.

      • Interesting about the sales culture – I think it’s more and more the case across Europe too, however some retailers seem to go the other way again and create more demand by only making a few items of each design. Out of interest, can anybody comment on what Zara is like in the US? Here they hardly ever put anything on sale (they do – at the end of the season – and I never buy anything because what goes on sale there really is there for a reason….)
        Dottie, you commented here before and every time I am amazed that somebody could really just buy one item of clothing (in your case the boots) per year! I suppose you must be really happy with your wardrobe as it is. Also, if you only buy one thing a year that is meant to last for a decade you kind of have to make sure you get the best quality AND something that you are entirely happy with. There’s not much room for mistakes in your budget!
        I suppose another reason why the “buy now if you really love it” works for me is that when i’m sooo determined not to lose out on something, and willing to pay full price for it, it usually turns out to be a good purchasing decision rather than a so so one.

        • Debbie Roes says:

          I’m not totally sure about Zara, K, but I think I remember seeing sales when I’ve gone in there. I don’t shop there much, though, as their clothes don’t seem to fit me well (probably because of my height). Perhaps retailers operate differently in different countries based upon cultural expectations. I think it’s good that you’re willing to pay full price for items you love. I think the reason many of us are afraid to do so is that we don’t trust ourselves to make the right decisions. I know some people just plain can’t afford the regular prices, but for me a lot of it has to do with fear. Now that may be a blog post there!

  17. Regarding Eileen Fisher. I LOVE E.F. designs and always manage to purchase a few (new) each season. Last autumn I went over-over-overboard due to an extended European tour and the packability of E.F. clothes. However, I digress. The point I wanted to make is that Eileen Fisher clothing has value. I am a knitter and I do not purchase a sweater unless it is a complicated design and would cost me more to knit it than purchase it (recently occurred when a Stella McCartney sweater dropped into the lap of my budget). Eileen Fisher offered some gorgeous knit sweaters last fall and the cost of the yarn was less than I could purchase it for if I wanted to knit it myself. Of course, that does not even include the time it would take to knit the sweater. It was a gorgeous baby alpaca yarn and I purchased the sweater as I knew its value. Good thing as it did not make it into the end of season sales–sold out.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for the endorsement of EF quality, Lisa. I think a lot of readers are trying to determine which items are worth it and which are just overpriced. Coming from a knitter, yours is a powerful endorsement.

  18. Although I buy almost everything on sale, this is one of the few areas that I don’t really struggle with. I think I’ve mentioned before that when I go to a store I never look at price. I gather up what I want to try on and make a decision if I want to buy or not. I then check the price. If it’s too high I will wait until it’s at a level that I’m willing to pay. That way I’m never tempted to buy something that isn’t a love just because it’s $10. I don’t know what the price of just okay items are because I’ve never looked. Online I add items to my shopping basket and will wait for a sale. This also helps because it adds a pause to make sure that I really do want it.
    I remember several years ago shopping with a friend. I had just given her a pair of red sandals that I wasn’t getting any use out of and she loved them and they were a great fit. We came across another pair of red sandals that her toes hung off the end, she said they weren’t comfortable, and she liked the pair I gave her better-but she bought them anyway because they were $8. That pretty much cured me of buying something because it was cheap. It was easier to see someone else doing it and realize it’s still wasting $8 so you’re saving nothing.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I love your shopping strategy, Tonya. I would like to shop that way more often myself. I think many of us pay too much attention to the price. When I was in the store with my friend, I admired a beautiful jacket but didn’t even want to try it on because the price was so high. My friend pushed me to do it and I’m glad I did. The jacket just wasn’t fabulous enough on for me to buy, even if I had the money to do so. I think it can be helpful to try things on first like you do and then evaluate whether or not something is workable for you or not.

      Thanks for sharing the story of your friend with the two pairs of red sandals. That illustrates the point perfectly! It sounds like you were kind of scared straight 🙂 I think people get so caught up by low prices that they don’t stop to think that it’s still money. It’s really not a deal if you didn’t need it, don’t love it, and don’t end up wearing it!

  19. This tweak to the sale rule is what I originally thought the rule meant! ha! I also found other suggestions such as the “return anything that still has a tag on it within 30 days of buying”. After taking a close look at my closet I have pieces in there with tags still on that I no longer have receipts for! As well as many items that have only been worn once. I am currently trying to find a receipt for a jacket I bought last month. If I’ve waited this long to wear it it should go back! I also find the “dressing for your body type” useful. There are several styles out now which I love – such as the crop tops which are currently in. However, I’d say my stomach is my problem area so I really can’t invest in these. I did have a question though. Do you ever feel like you’ll change your mind on having a minimal closet? Just as my style has changed over the years what if my desire to own less clothing changes? In other words, do you think if let’s say next year my closet is actually paired down to a reasonable amount and then I decide I no longer want those clothes because I now want to dress more conservative, edgy, etc? I have to be honest, I’m a little nervous about wanting clothes I’ve gotten rid of later!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad you’ve found my various rules helpful, Millie. The one about the returns is something I’m trying to follow more stringently lately, as I’ve been caught with items that I can no longer return. In most cases, 30 days is long enough, especially since it’s risky to buy things for another season (as our bodies, lifestyles, or preferences may shift by the time that season rolls around).

      In answer to your question, I think that one’s ideal wardrobe size is likely to shift over time, so even what one considers a “minimal closet” may change. I think that my idea of a minimal closet would still seem like too much for a Project 333 purist, for example. But I don’t think I will EVER want to go back to my huge closet of yesteryear. In regards to your second question, I rarely find myself wishing I hadn’t gotten rid of something. When I do, it’s usually because I didn’t remember WHY I chose to pass it on. Keeping a list of reasons has helped a lot, as often things looked nice but didn’t work for some reason (uncomfortable, fussy, poor fit, bad fabric, etc). When I recall those reasons, I’m usually at peace with the decision I made. I can probably count on one hand the number of items I wish I still had, and I’ve gotten rid of a lot of items!

  20. Carolyn says:

    HI Debbie

    I have another rule: “Buy Once.”

    A few years ago I was going to an event and I needed (wanted) some new shoes. I found a pair I loved but they were over my price range and were pretty expensive. I found an alternative pair which I wore. They were 1/2 the price of the pair I loved and they were OK, acceptable.

    A month later I passed by the shop with the shoes I originally loved and I still loved them and so, I bought them. And you know, those shoes are still in my closet 10 years later. I love them, have them resoled and people always comment on them. They are quality italian, beautiful but edgy. I should have bought them in the first place. I should have bought once. The item that I loved. Instead I bought twice and who knows whatever happened to the 2nd choice ones I bought. They are long gone.

    • That’s an excellent rule. I used to settle for a cheaper option that was just okay, but then feel too guilty to buy the thing I really wanted, and so buy something else that might be better than my original purchase but still not the thing I really wanted. It’s a good way to end up with a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Carolyn, I love your rule SO much and your story illustrates it perfectly. I think that many of us settle for the lesser version of what we truly want and often end up buying multiple pieces to try to find something we will like as much as the more expensive item. I’m glad you were able to buy the shoes you truly loved and that you still love them 10 years later. I finally bought and kept the AGL flats I wanted after returning them twice in the past (because I thought they were too expensive). It’s only been 6 months, but I am getting a lot of wear out of those shoes – and I love them every single time I wear them!

    • So well said Carolyn. I’ve been so guilty of buying multiple cheap substitutes. One winter I saw the perfect cashmere scarf, way out of my price range of course. I knew that if I didn’t buy it I would immediately seek out substitutes, that they would not satisfy and I’d end up spending the same or maybe more anyway. So I bit the bullet and bought that perfect scarf. I have never regretted it. What’s the old Gucci slogan? Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten(?) So true. I learned the lesson with that scarf and now just buy the one (insert item) I really want.

      And back to the central topic, I guess one could also say (If possible) “DO buy on sale what you would pay full price for, if you could afford it!”

      • Debbie Roes says:

        Thanks for sharing your story, Tia! I’m glad you’re still loving your scarf. I love the Gucci slogan, too. I hadn’t heard it before, but it’s definitely true! And it works in both directions, too. We remember that something is of poor quality long after we forget the “great deal” that we got on it!

        • So true Debbie! And wasting even a few dollars on a cheap mistake bothers me later, whereas spending a lot more on something I really love just feels like money well spent. 🙂

  21. I am guilty of the ‘it’s on sale’ mentality, to purchase items in excess quantity and items that do not fit with my current wardrobe or style. I have to double the price to figure out if I should purchase it or not. If I take the price out of the equation (which doubling often does for me) I can then focus on the items attributes and NOT the price as the reason to buy or not.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Good rule of thumb, Lisa! I think that doubling the price can really help us to evaluate whether or not an item should come home with us or not. At least it will help remove those “sales goggles” that often get us into trouble!

Comments are closed for this article.